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Police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters in Huntsville

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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Police in Huntsville deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and demonstrators chanting “I can’t breathe” in downtown Huntsville Wednesday evening, injuring several people, including a small child.

Video from the scene shows demonstrators at the aftermath of an Alabama NAACP rally peppered with rubber bullets and tear gas as law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead.

One reporter on the ground described it as a “war zone.”

State Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, the minority leader in the Alabama House, said the scene was reminiscent of Bloody Sunday in Selma as at least 35 state troopers were called in to forcefully disperse a peaceful crowd.

“Unnecessarily Using Force Against Peaceful Protesters in Downtown Hunstville,” Daniels said on his Facebook page. “Who called the State Troopers? I am so disappointed in our local and county leadership. This is not Bloody Sunday. Why the hell were the State Troopers called.”

In an interview with APR Wednesday evening, Daniels said it was very disappointing that it got to this point and he is demanding answers from local and state officials about why such a show of force and violence on the part of law enforcement was necessary.

“Thirty-five state troopers,” Daniels said. “This is the type of presence that was at Bloody Sunday.”

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Daniels said there were several thousand people present at the formal demonstration, and several hundred stayed after the permit expired, but none of it appeared violent or disruptive.

“Peaceful protesters and concerned citizens — where there is no evidence of any type of disruption, in my mind,” Daniels said. “I don’t understand why local, county and state law enforcement — to the sum of 35 state troopers being present with full gear. It’s just ridiculous to me and very disappointing. I’m waiting for answers.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said State Troopers did not participate in deploying tear gas or use other such means to disperse crowds. They were only present to assist, the agency said. *Correction: This article previously stated that State Troopers joined Huntsville police and Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies in deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says State Troopers were only present as backup support and did not fire tear gas or other dispersants.

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“Huntsville is one of several Alabama cities this week requesting support from ALEA. The agency has assigned ALEA Troopers to serve as backup during protests, but they have not participated in deploying tear gas or using other such means to disperse crowds. Details are law-enforcement sensitive and not available,” an ALEA spokesperson said in a statement.

Daniels and another state representative spoke at the rally earlier in the evening. He said he wondered if there was a threat posed or intelligence, which would be the only justification for such a deployment of force, and, if so, why he wasn’t notified.

“It leads me to believe that it was an effort to justify the actual number of law enforcement there,” Daniels said. “It looks to me like they were looking to justify the number of law enforcement that was there.”

Police began clearing the courthouse square in downtown Huntsville, where a Confederate memorial stands, after 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to AL.com. A protest permit expired at 6:30 p.m., leading armed riot police to disperse the crowd with pepper gas and rubber bullets.

The first sign of any offensive action by protesters came after police deployed smoke and after trooper cars sped through the area. The protesters threw water bottles at state trooper cars.

Protesters moved to Big Spring Park near Huntsville’s Von Braun Center before they were again dosed with a “heavy” dose of tear gas, which carried across to a media staging area and obscured a Marriott hotel in smoke.

AL.com’s Paul Gattis and Ian Hoppe report that a small child — less than four years old — was caught in the tear gas and began screaming.

Huntsville police said there had been no property damage or violence during the protest.

Lt. Michael Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department told Huntsville’s WHNT that the police department ended what they thought was “a pretty peaceful protest.”

“Once that permit expired, we still waited a good amount of time,” Johnson said.

It appears law enforcement waited about an hour before beginning attempts to disperse the demonstrators with forceful means like tear gas and rubber bullets.

“It started to get a little hostile. A couple of things were thrown at us,” Johnson said. “The verbiage, some of the threats, the hostility, blocking the road — we just cannot have that.”

Johnson said police were not “going to roll the dice” to see if the protest turned out to be violent.

“We’re not going to let this city go through what other cities go through,” Johnson said, justifying using a “chemical agent” on peaceful protesters.

Before riot police sprayed them with tear gas and rubber bullets, protesters chanted “we are peaceful.”

Daniels said people concerned about police brutality and what he called an inappropriate use of force Wednesday should show up at the ballot box and demand answers.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile residents impacted by Sally urged to apply for federal aid

FEMA has approved $11.1 million in housing grants to individuals and families through Sept. 28, according to the governor’s office. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced more than $11 million in federal disaster aid has been approved for those impacted by Hurricane Sally in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile counties.  

FEMA has approved $11.1 million in housing grants to individuals and families through Sept. 28, according to Ivey’s office. 

“Hurricane Sally took a punch to our coastal areas, but thanks in part to the millions of dollars in federal assistance, the people of Alabama are moving along the road to recovery,” Ivey said. “I remain grateful to President Trump, Administrator Gaynor and their teams for prioritizing the people of Alabama reeling from Hurricane Sally. We will get through this together; we have done it before, and we will do it again.”

Federal grants to repair homes or for renting temporary housing made up $8.9 million of the FEMA funding. Grants for childcare, moving and storage, medical and dental comprised the remaining $2.1 million. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved an additional $570,900 in disaster home repair loans for those impacted by Sally.

Ivey’s office encourages homeowners and renters in Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties to apply to FEMA for federal disaster assistance as soon as possible. Residents of these three Alabama counties may also be eligible to receive assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from the hurricane.

Residents in those three counties impacted by Hurricane Sally may register for FEMA disaster assistance online by visiting disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Multi-lingual operators are available. The toll-free lines are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight CST.

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Those with a homeowner’s insurance policy are encouraged to file an insurance claim before applying for federal assistance. 

Information that may be useful to have when you register include:

  • Address of the damaged primary dwelling where the damage occurred
  • Current mailing address
  • Current telephone number
  • Insurance information and description of disaster-caused damage and loss
  • Total household annual income
  • Names and birth dates of family members who live in the household
  • Name and Social Security number of co-applicant (if applicable)
  • Routing and account number for checking or savings account so FEMA may directly transfer disaster assistance funds

 For more information on Hurricane Say visit FEMA’s website here.

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Congress

Palmer supports legislation making unused PPP funds available to small businesses

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, added his signature to a discharge petition that would force a vote on a bill that would allow unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to be made available for small businesses.

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses. The program has kept thousands of small businesses open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still in need as the economy continues to recover.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has refused to hold a vote. The Democratic controlled House passed the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act, which Republicans opposed.

Palmer and House Republicans accuse Pelosi of holding American workers and businesses “hostage,” preferring the Democrats’ relief legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi has made her objectives abundantly clear,” Palmer said. “We could have negotiated and delivered immediate aid for small businesses and individuals weeks ago, but her leftist agenda always comes first. Many businesses are barely hanging, on anxiously awaiting the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, but Pelosi is determined to hold them hostage to get her way. She would like to bail out states that were bankrupt before the pandemic and further a welfare agenda that is harmful to the economy. Today, I proudly signed a discharge petition to circumvent Pelosi’s control of the House floor and force a vote on a bill that would bring real relief to businesses struggling to survive the pandemic. It’s time for Members of Congress to stand up for small businesses and American workers since the Speaker clearly won’t. Small businesses across the country can’t wait.”

A discharge petition on H.R. 8265 was filed on Friday by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, and 218 signatures are needed to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. The bill was introduced on Sept. 16 by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

“This public health crisis has left our small businesses near permanent closure, and that will happen on a massive scale if Congress doesn’t act,” Beutler said. “Yet Congress isn’t acting, so I’ve filed the discharge petition in the House today so we can bypass the political posturing and bring relief to our nation’s small businesses and their employees. Other relief remains vital, but we either save jobs and businesses now or provide triage soon for the damage caused by empty buildings, lost livelihoods and health care plans, and fewer employment opportunities overall. Reviving the PPP has to be our priority.”

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“The Paycheck Protection Program has served as a critical lifeline for America’s small businesses,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. “Since its launch, the program is credited with saving 51 million jobs nationwide. But our work in helping small business owners stay open and keep employees on payroll is not done. A recent report indicates that as many as 36 percent small businesses say if no new funding comes from Congress soon, they will be forced to lay off workers or cut back hours. Democrats have consistently blocked or delayed relief, but Republicans are not giving up. That is why House Republicans, led by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler have filed a discharge petition to force a vote on a stand-alone extension of the Paycheck Protection Program through the end of the year. It only needs 218 signatures to force a vote, so I hope that our Democrat colleagues will join us in delivering relief. My Republican colleagues and I will continue to act on our Commitment to America; we will be relentless in our fight to protect jobs, small businesses, and the American dream.”

“Since March, small businesses—corner stores, retail shops, and family restaurants—have been struggling to survive,” Chabot said. “Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the CARES Act, which delivered rapid assistance to small firms through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. Unfortunately, in recent months, additional relief for small businesses has been caught up in the partisan logjam and the livelihoods of real people hang in the balance. Congress must work together to get help to small businesses in Washington, Ohio, and across our great nation. Rep. Herrera Beutler’s discharge petition to force a vote on my legislation is the way to do just that. I thank her for her leadership on behalf of America’s small businesses.”

Multiple news outlets, including Roll Call and The Hill, are reporting that several House Democrats are “strongly considering” signing Beutler’s discharge petition.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer does not have a Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Elections

Sewell: Confirming Barrett before the election would undermine Supreme Court’s legitimacy

“The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise,” Sewell said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell (via Office of Rep. Terri Sewell)

Saturday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) released a statement claiming that President Donald J. Trump’s (R) nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court was tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans and that confirming Judge Barrett would undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court nomination by President Trump today, with the 2020 presidential election only 38 days away, denies the American people a voice in this very important decision,” Rep. Sewell said. “The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise not to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election. This standard articulated by Senate Republicans was applied against President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 presidential election. This blatant power grab by Trump and Senate Republicans is especially disturbing given that the voting process has already begun with hundreds of thousands of voters having cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election.”

“Fairness and comity demand that the Senate not confirm any vacancy on the Supreme Court until the American people have chosen the next president,” Sewell concluded. “To do otherwise, I believe would undermine the very legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Friday before Barrett was even nominated, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) announced that he will not support any Trump nominee for the Supreme Court for the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. Jones stated, “I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election.”

“Justice Ginsburg was a role model and an inspiration,” Sen. Jones said. She was a brilliant and tireless advocate, a champion for fairness and equality, and her efforts have brought our country closer to the ideals upon which it was founded.”

“It is a poor reflection of the state of our national politics that, just hours after Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we were thrust into a divisive partisan fight over her successor, denying the nation the time to mourn this extraordinary American’s death,” Jones continued. “Just weeks from a national election, we are confronting a blatant power grab by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President that will undermine the court and subvert the will of the American people.”

“Just four years ago, Leader McConnell held open a Supreme Court seat for ten months before a presidential election because he said time and again that, in an election year, we must let the American people decide,” Jones said. “If confirming a Supreme Court justice ten months prior to a presidential election would have denied the American people a voice, then isn’t he now denying the American people a voice by rushing to confirm a justice just weeks before a presidential election?”

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“I believe the answer to this question is a resounding YES,” Jones continued. “This is especially true given the urgent legislative work we have yet to do. Leader McConnell should turn his focus instead to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the American people by bringing a new bipartisan COVID-19 relief package up for a vote. We also need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act to support our military. We need to pass our annual funding bills instead of kicking the can down the road with yet another costly continuing resolution. We need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has languished in this Senate, in order to protect the right of all Americans to vote and participate in our democracy.”

“Consequently, under these circumstances, I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election,” Jones explained. We should not force the country into a brutal and divisive partisan confirmation fight while Americans are already voting to choose the next President. If President Trump is re-elected, I will evaluate any pending or future nominee on their merits and vote for or against the nominee based solely on their qualifications.”

Trump has already appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Barack H. Obama (D) only got to select two of his nominees to the court. When conservative icon Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 – the previous election year, Republicans led by McConnell and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) blocked Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland.

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Jones also voted against previous Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Sewell has no Republican general election opponent.

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National

Palmer bill would give states flexibility in spending remaining coronavirus funds

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Gary Palmer

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, has introduced the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act, which would allow states to determine how to spend their remaining coronavirus relief dollars issued under the CARES Act.

“The initial legislation was perhaps too restrictive,” Palmer said. “What we hope to do with this legislation is not only create some flexibility to prevent waste but to incentivize states to use the funds towards much needed infrastructure. The one-size-fits-all nature of the underlying measure fails to consider how each state is responding to the pandemic differently, so this legislation would put the spending decisions in the hands of those on the ground in the states who have a better understanding of their specific needs.”

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

States and localities were provided with $150 billion through the CARES Act relief fund for mitigation and response to COVID-19. Alabama’s legislators originally thought they could do whatever they wanted with that money. State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, even went so far as to produce a wish list that included hundreds of millions for broadband expansion and a new Statehouse.

Federal authorities, however, made it clear that there were restrictions on what that money could be used for. It can not be used to make up for lost revenues due to the lengthy economic shutdowns, the dramatic cutbacks in travel and hospitality, and the reductions in business capacity.

It is now estimated that approximately $80 billion remains unspent. HR8360 would allow state legislatures to determine how to utilize these remaining funds, with measures to encourage infrastructure development and future COVID-19 preparedness.

Palmer said that the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act would prohibit funds from being spent on government employee bonuses, lobbying expenses or budget shortfalls predating the pandemic, while providing a 50 percent match for funds spent on infrastructure projects begun in the next year.

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It would also require states to hold 25 percent of their remaining relief funds in trust for future COVID-19 expenses. The states are currently required to return any unspent CARES Act money in January.

Democrats have been pushing for more than $1 trillion in funding for cash-strapped state and local governments, but the White House and congressional Republicans have resisted this call, arguing that would be just rewarding state and local governments for poor fiscal planning.

The White House and Senate Republicans are in negotiations with Democratic leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on a possible compromise coronavirus relief bill prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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